Metro aims to get out word on shot policy
By Elizabeth Johnson • THE TENNESSEAN • June 23, 2010
Nashville schools want to make it impossible to forget when to give seventh-graders their newly required vaccinations.
The school district and health department are teaming for 7-7-7 Day, administering free varicella and Tdap boosters on July 7. The shots guard against chicken pox, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough.
Those who can't make the event or live outside Nashville can get the vaccines free from their local health departments year-round. Students statewide need them to enter seventh grade after a January decision by the Tennessee Department of Health.
The same decision required additional vaccinations for children starting preschool and kindergarten. But it's the shots for older children, typically past such requirements, which seem toughest for parents to sort out.
"For all these years, one vaccine has done the trick, so why do they need two now? I'm not understanding why that's the case," said Belinda Tidwell, whose son Landon will enter seventh grade at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood this year.
Dr. Mary Keown with Pediatric Associates of Davidson County said the U.S. Centers for Disease Controlhas recommended chicken pox booster for almost five years, she said.
"They're trying to get the response of the vaccine from 80-85 percent to 90 percent," she said. "The state of Tennessee is catching up with recommendations."
Tennessee was seeing more teens infected after they'd already been immunized as children, said Kelly Moore, medical director of the state immunization program.
"These are the first changes to immunization requirements in Tennessee in the last decade," she said. "We only require vaccines that have been recommended for a few years. They are not experimental."
It's not required, but doctors are recommending male and female middle school students get Gardasil when they come in for their other shots. The vaccine, launched in 2006 for young women, prevents the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer in women. In October drug manufacturer Merck approved it to prevent genital warts in young men.
Moore advises parents to research recommended vaccines, such as meningitis and Gardasil, to better protect their children.
"One population we have a hard time immunizing is pre-teens and teenagers because they don't go to the doctor," Moore said.
"Two-thirds of teenagers in Tennessee have not had the vaccines recommended for their age group. We encourage parents to get credible and updated information."
To keep it all straight, the state combined four immunization certificates into one sheet parents can keep throughout their children's school years. It is a different color and will list all requirements and recommendations along with the shots students have had.